Lawless and corrupt, Cambodia’s postwar government has grown into a domineering agent of injustice with “enormous capacity for coercion,” according to UN rights envoy Yash Ghai.
In his third report to the UN Human Rights Council, which he is to address Wednesday, Ghai describes Cambodia as a state “marked by the absence of the rule of law” in which a powerless majority is sometimes controlled by fear.
Though broader in scope, the views confirm those Ghai presented last year, when he described the Cambodian legal system as “a principal agency of oppression.”
The report presented the findings of Ghai’s 10-day mission to Cambodia in December, which provoked outrage from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has offered blanket rejections to Ghai’s reporting on Cambodia since his appointment in 2005.
Om Yentieng, Hun Sen’s Human Rights adviser, is currently in Geneva and plans to respond to Ghai’s report before the Council, Chin Bunthoeun, press director at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said Monday.
Abuses of human rights occur as Cambodia’s powerful violate the law in the process of seeking greater wealth, according to Ghai.
“Movement of those who struggle against oppression is controlled. The desire of people to assemble freely is seen as dangerous, and the freedom of expression has to be curtailed,” Ghai wrote.
“Above all, people have to be taught to fear the rulers, by their caprice and unpredictability, and especially brute force.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith declined to respond directly to the report’s contents Monday, saying instead that if Ghai’s reporting were flawed, this was because he was misinformed by the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh.
“How can Yash Ghai make a speech about human rights without consulting somebody?” said Khieu Kanharith.
Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Monday that Ghai’s report was the result of extensive consultations across Cambodia.
“This office is one source of information,” said Peschoux. He also confirmed a recent media report according to which the government will no longer offer Ghai entry visas on arrival but require him instead to obtain them from a Cambodian embassy.
Reporting on consultations with officials at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Ghai praised the quality of legal arguments made at the tribunal.
However, he said without addressing human rights in contemporary Cambodia, the effect of the ECCC “will remain marginal.”
He also accused the Cambodian Bar Association of serving the ruling party’s political ends, intimidating lawyers who take politically sensitive clients.
Bar Secretary-General Ly Tayseng said the association stood by its political independence and called on Ghai to name the lawyers subjected to pressure.
“I feel that the charge from the representative Yash Ghai is ridiculous,” he said Monday.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Cambodia’s postwar government had enacted hundreds of laws, jailed violent criminals and allowed civil society to flourish.
“In Cambodia, people are exercising their rights as stated in the Constitution,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)